A Trump Presidency and Welfare
October 19, 2016
Welfare policy has been dominated by the persona known as the “welfare queen”, characterized a someone who steals from welfare funds by setting up multiple false identities who all collect from welfare programs, as introduced by Ronald Reagan in 1976. Since then, welfare policies and reform have been framed around the mindset that it should push individuals to work, rather than render individuals dependent on the government.  Into the ’80s and ’90s this view of welfare was further perpetuated by the “cycle of poverty,” which argues that those in poverty are in their position not solely due to lack of resources, but because they possess a corrupted set of moral values, that include sentiments such as laziness. This public opinion set the narrative on welfare throughout the ’80s and ’90s, eventually giving rise to political pressure to completely reform the welfare system at the time.
The political pressure for action resulted in Bill Clinton passing the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, which addresses the popular opinion of welfare, by no longer making welfare an entitlement program. It is at this point that we begin to see a very explicit correlation between public opinion on welfare and laws that positively align with them. By requiring employment after two years of benefits and limiting the time one can receive welfare benefits throughout one’s lifetime to five years, legislators created a welfare program that limits the dependence an individual can have on it. A study published in political psychology concluded that modern day opinions on welfare are still primarily based on whether we evaluate to the recipient as lazy or motivated to work.  This implies that future welfare reforms and policies put forward might try to adhere to this mindset that seeks to curb “laziness” and promote “ambition.” So what does this mean for 2016?
Trump’s Core Voting Block and Advisors
Trump - like any nominee - is tied to election politics. According to the Pew Research Center, Trump’s core voters are older whites without college degrees; 85% of those surveyed with Republican leanings would vote for Trump over Hillary. In order to maintain this base group, Trump - though an untraditional candidate for the RNC - might maintain policy positions on social safety nets that are more aligned with the conservative values of his base support. There is a strong perception that Trump’s support comes primarily from working class white people; however, data collected in the Pew Center’s election research implies that his largest voting bloc is in fact the middle class. He receives the most support from voters with family incomes of $75,000-$99,000, which removes some voter pressure on welfare. Before his run for president, Trump had also taken to Facebook to denounce budget cuts to military spending before cuts to welfare, which suggests he, himself, has issues with welfare and would be inclined to curtail spending if presented the option.
Moreover, his Vice Presidential pick, Mike Pence, and other advisors are strongly in favor of cutting welfare funding. Pence has previously advocated for sweeping tax cuts both in Indiana and as a member of Congress during the Bush administration. As Governor of Indiana in 2014, Pence reinstated an unemployment time limit for welfare recipients without children that had been removed during the Great Recession. Aside from Pence, Trump has also stacked his appointments with notoriously conservative figures such as John Mashburn, who Trump named Policy Director. Mashburn is heavily conservative on social issues, including welfare. In 2012 he famously reduced the children and the Supplemental Security Income disability program, which helps support families who make below a specified monetary threshold with disabled children.
With Trump’s advisors and administration appearing principally in favor of reducing welfare programs, it is reasonable to conclude that his approach would aim at restricting access to benefits. However, it is difficult to anticipate precise details for these plans since he has not specified a definitive position. Thus, welfare under a President Trump is left uncertain. A trajectory towards welfare restriction is certainly discernible, but the eventual upshot is ambiguous.
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